Young, creative, and passionate about fresh produce, a small group of chefs are turning their restaurants into the best in North County with ripe, seasonal fruit and vegetables from local growers like the Chino farm and La Milpa Organica Farm.
Ironically, the concept of cooking with produce picked a few hours ago ― "at the right stage" (Tom Chino's understatement) ― is fairly new to the Chinos' own neighborhood. A longtime Navy town, San Diego didn't put a premium on creative restaurant cooking until recently.
Arterra Brian Pekarcik meshes vibrant flavors from area produce, in consultation with überchef Bradley Ogden ― king of California local and seasonal. Cucumber-pepper relish, an avocado terrine, and a mango emulsion all have a role in Pekarcik's lobster-and-crab salad. INFO: $$$$; in the San Diego Marriott Del Mar, 11966 El Camino Real, San Diego; 858/369-6032.
A.R. Valentien Jeff Jackson comes in on the hearty end of ingredient-based cooking, in an exquisite Craftsman resort setting. Juicy chicken roasted under a brick with smashed, then fried, fingerling potatoes and baby artichokes is always on the menu in some form. INFO: $$$$; in the Lodge at Torrey Pines, 11480 N. Torrey Pines Rd., La Jolla; 858/777-6635.
George's California Modern Arguably the county's best waterfront food now, thanks to Trey Foshee. Dishes are built around grower-named produce, from Chino farm mâche salad to sea bass in a jumble of daikon radishes, pea shoots, and shiitake mushrooms. The once formal main dining room ― bright and casual now ― takes even better advantage of the sweeping views; the rooftop terrace offers open-air dining. INFO: $$$$ (Ocean Terrace Bistro: $$); 1250 Prospect St., La Jolla; 858/454-4244.
Market Restaurant + Bar After years of working with Bradley Ogden at Arterra, Carl Schroeder opened his own place last July and now packs in the crowds with his eclectic, produce-driven menu. He still makes his longtime signature short ribs, but the scallops with sweet-pea pasta and a cipollini onion-and-mushroom ragout can't be far behind as new Schroeder favorites. INFO: $$$; 3702 Via de la Valle, Del Mar; 858/523-0007.
Mille Fleurs One of the priciest restaurants in the county and just a radish's throw from the Chino farm (about a mile). Martin Woesle was the first local chef to come knocking, 20 years ago. From Germany, he's a masterful adventurer in Continental territory: pickled herring on Chino beets, venison with blueberries. Vegetables on the side are the high point ― the carrots are irresistible. INFO: $$$$; 6009 Paseo Delicias, Rancho Santa Fe; 858/756-3085.
Nine-Ten Taste interesting, ingredient-conscious dishes from Jason Knibb ― white asparagus salad with slow-poached egg, black truffle vinaigrette, and baby spinach and bell pepper (edgily cooked en sous vide) with a flatiron steak. INFO: $$$$; in the Grande Colonial Hotel, 910 Prospect St., La Jolla; 858/964-5400.
Visit a farmers' market